No one will ever accuse Sleepless of being a deep film. Its plot mechanics function along the lines of a much stupider, and more poorly thought-out, take on The Departed (or its predecessor, Infernal Affairs), but with 90 percent fewer twists and 100 percent less character development. Yet, somehow, it’s still not as bad as it could have been. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t fully recommend this film, but it does have some entertaining moments despite its profoundly implausible narrative and clunky pacing. And sometimes a frivolous diversion can be enough. It’s also the only movie I reviewed this week that clocks in at less than two hours, for which I am eternally grateful.
Swiss director Baran bo Odar has delivered a strange piece of pulpy fun with this remake of the 2011 Franco-Belgian thriller Sleepless Night. The problem is there’s less than nothing beneath its veneer of cop-movie cliches, so that fun doesn’t carry things very far on its own. What you see is effectively what you get. While Odar takes a valiant stab at aping Michael Mann or Antoine Fuqua with his neo-noir narrative, his capacity as a visual stylist falls distinctly short of his aspirations.
The most glaring problem with Sleepless is in its scripting. It’s difficult for me to say with any certainty whether the plot or the dialogue is more egregiously offensive, but the two function in concert to create an effect of almost breathtaking banality. As someone with a deep affinity for B movies, I fully embrace the tendency for such films to work in spite of their narrative shortcomings. But Sleepless never quite pulls off that particular balancing act. At least it’s a stripped-down film with efficient pacing (although it still manages to drag a bit in the second act), but the utter absurdity of the story should deter all but the most ardent genre completists. Straight Outta Compton screenwriter Andrea Berloff is clearly phoning it in to the great detriment of a cast that deserved better.
Remember those halcyon days of the early aughts when Jamie Foxx was nominated for two Oscars in the same year and actually took home one of them? He doesn’t, if his performance here can be taken as any indication. Foxx plays a possibly corrupt, possibly undercover, cop whose involvement in a drug theft gone awry runs him afoul of a sleazy casino owner (Dermot Mulroney), a psychotic mob-family scion (Scoot McNairy) and a hard-edged internal affairs detective (Michelle Monaghan). If Monaghan and Foxx play their one-note characters a bit too straight, McNairy and Mulroney at least recognize what kind of film they’re in and ham things up with commendable aplomb. At the end of the day, there’s little that even a cast this talented could have done to elevate a script with so little in its favor.
Seldom have I encountered such a significant sense of cognitive dissonance at the movies than I found in transitioning from the somber sublimity of Martin Scorsese’s Silence to the stupefying superficiality of Sleepless. I don’t recommend seeing these films back-to-back, but I suppose that’s an occupational hazard few others will have to risk. The limited appeal of Sleepless, such as it is, lies in its position as counterprogramming going into awards season. Those in need of a mindless thriller need look no further. After the pretension of Patriot’s Day and the seriousness of Silence, I was certainly up for a change of pace. Your mileage may vary. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.
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